Good Reading : October 2016
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING OCTOBER 2016 38 GENERAL FICTION WOM word of mouth RATINGS ★ ★ ★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★★ RG The Essex Serpent Sarah Perry Is it ridiculous to buy a book purely because the cover is so beautiful that you long to display it on your shelf, like a finely crafted ornament? In this case, I can well imagine myself being that ridiculous. In this era of mass-produced trade paperbacks, designed to be read once and either discarded or casually added to your local street library, it’s exciting to come across a hardcover with such an intriguingly designed jacket. This is a book that will adorn your shelves for years to come. Fortunately, the quality of the cover is matched, and possibly surpassed, by the quality of the writing in this novel from Sarah Perry. Set in Victorian England shortly before the end of the 19th century, it explores the gap between an increasingly sophisticated and questioning middle class and the working class, who cling to religious certainty while remaining in thrall to myths of an ancient monster hidden in the depths of the river, apparently surfacing periodically to menace the local population. Cora Seaborne, an amateur palaeontologist, has welcomed her recent widowhood; her husband was a thoroughly unpleasant fellow. Now, with her companion, Martha, and her autistic son, Francis, she leaves the comforts of London and sets out for the wilds of Essex, where she is soon caught up by the tales of the Essex Serpent. She also unexpectedly finds herself in love with a married local vicar. Perry’s writing is poetic and assured: ‘Time was being served behind the walls of Newgate jail, and wasted by philosophers in cafes on the Strand; it was lost by those who wished the past were present and loathed by those who wished the present past.’ If you enjoy the wr iting of Dickens, or perhaps John Fowles, you are sure to enjoy this. ★★★★ RG Serpent’s Tail $29.99 Reviewed by Marian Barker The Last Crusaders: Ivan the Terrible William Napier William Napier continues the story of Ingoldsby and Hodge, scions of Shropshire in the reign of Elizabeth I, and of the indomitable Knights of St John, Stanley and Smith. In the previous episodes of the ser ies, Napier gave us creditable takes on the siege of Malta by the Ottoman Turks in 1565 and the sea battle of Lepanto in 1571. But now it is 1574 and Ingoldsby and Hodge are summoned by Smith and Stanley on an embassy to the Moscow of Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terr ible. Moscow is under attack by the Tartars of the Crimean Khanate and the novel’s protagonists proceed to contribute cheerfully to the mayhem. What makes multi-volume historical fiction such as this enjoyable are two things: strong and unconventional character isation and a basic respect for the historical facts. By ‘unconventional’ I mean that the writer has to know enough about his or her period to capture that people in the past were actually not like us. There has to be an attempt to portray the strangeness of a remote time. And the second requirement is a function of the first; if too great a liberty is taken with the known events, then there is a corresponding loss of authenticity, and the result is time travel on the cheap. This book fortunately ticks these boxes. In his depiction of the demented founder of ‘modern’ Russia he has given us a truly memorable character. And mark this: if Ivan brains a servant with the iron staff he habitually carried because they spill his vodka, you can be pretty sure there is a primary source that vouches for it. ★★★ Orion $19.99 Reviewed by Grant Hansen creditable takes on the siege of Malta by the basic respect for the historical facts. By ‘unconventional’ I mean that the writer has to know enough about his or her period to capture that people in the past were actually not like us. There has to be an attempt to portray the strangeness of a remote time. And the second requirement is a function of the first; if too great a liberty is taken with the known events, then there is The Essex Serpent Sarah Perry Icover is so beautiful that you long to display it on your shelf, like a finely crafted ornament? In this case, I can well imagine myself being that ridiculous.